Saturday, October 28, 2006

Near/Far: Second Iteration (subset one)

In the comments to the previous post, Near/Far: Second Iteration, vocalist/guitarist of the band Wayfarer, Ryan Chubb, asked some questions that sparked more thoughts on my behalf, and when I realized my answer to him was post-length in itself, I decided to make it an update to the original post. And now it's a post all on it's own.

Ryan asked:
"My question is how do we define these things? What is passion if many equate it as exuberance? How do we avoid forced-to-a-predetermined-conclusions without making it a complete existential free-for-all?"
I guess what sparked my choice of words (which are admittedly and deliberately provocative) were instances where I've witnessed it.

For one, visiting a prominent mega-church and observing that they have little golden "mood lights" above the congregation, which rise and fall in luminence in connection with the rise and fall of the music, and seem to be designed for the express purpose of causing a corresponding rise and fall in the "mood" of the congregation. I believe they typically call this a "worship experience".

At first, I would have simply called it beaucoup de fromage (extemely cheezy), but ultimately (as I saw more and more youth ministries and churches adopting the same methodology and language) it bothered me because it's contrived, not real, not from the heart, and definitely pre-packaged. In which case, I would more likely just call it what it is: "manipulation".

Second, in some (not all) worship gatherings of charismatic, pentecostal, third wave and -- yes, let's admit it -- YWAM people, I have oft-times observed somebody (whether a leader, worship leader, or well-intentioned young person with a "word") say something to the effect of: "If you're not dancing, you're not 'free'. If you love God, you must dance for Him (right now)." With the unstated condemnation that, up until that moment, God wasn't happy with our worship, and that if we don't dance right now, we don't truly love Jesus.

Usually followed by the band diving into "Undignified", so we can all repent appropriately of our substandard expression of worship. (I've played this song myself, to be honest, but I've never used it to manipulate people into "performing" in a certain way)

Let me be really, really, REALLY clear: I absolutely LOVE freedom in worship, but to me, "freedom" looks more like a creative diversity of worship expressions, not the uniformity of one posture dictated by the agenda of the few.

Just before the most recent occurrence of this mentality, I was thoroughly enjoying singing Redman's "Blessed be the Name of the Lord" (great lyrics to this one!), and all around me, people were singing, some kneeling, some dancing, some with hands in the air -- a wonderful picture of the Body being free to express different creative postures of worship in a corporate setting.

Then, of course, there was the "word" about dancing for Jesus, and the requisite playing of "Undignified", and suddenly the worship of Jesus felt highjacked by a human agenda. Let's face it: some people don't find dancing to be part of their repertoire of worship expression. They just aren't dancers, and by forcing this narrow expectation on them, their focus is taken AWAY from worshipping Jesus, and placed on whether or not they were performing according to an agenda.

Secondly, and even more serious, is that these kind of "dance or you don't love God" kind of statements actually misrepresent Jesus.

Can you imagine this scene playing out in the heavenlies?

Angels: "Jesus, look over there! We see a whole crowd of Christians, from many different countries, language groups, denominations, and generations, all joining together to worship You! Isn't it awesome?"

Jesus (totally losing it): "Oh no, not again! They're doing it ALL WRONG!!. Quick, Holy Spirit, goose somebody down there to tell them that they don't love Me unless they're dancing."

Manipulation in worship -- although I'll concede that there are times where it's actually unintentional -- is a trap that anyone involved in worship has to be aware of, and guard against.

So, Ryan, when I posed the original statement which provoked your very excellent questions, it was these kind of things in the back of my mind that prompted what I wrote.

But let's open up your questions to everyone. For the record again, here's what Ryan was asking:
"My question is how do we define these things? What is passion if many equate it as exuberance? How do we avoid forced-to-a-predetermined-conclusions without making it a complete existential free-for-all?"
Thoughts? Insights?

Update

Bill Kinnon has written a very good and thought-provoking article after being a part of this discussion here. Check out Bill's The Power of Music in Church.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Near/Far: Second Iteration

Re: Feminization of the Church

My first reaction when I came across this phrase, frankly, was that it seemed incredibly sexist. What makes the church feminized, and why is that seen as bad, a mistake, or substandard?


Sometimes, it sounds like we're being forced to look at worship and worship songs like the above picture. Why the forced dichotomy? Particularly such an over-stated forced/false dichotomy as masculine "versus" feminine worship?

The more I read what people seem concerned about, however, the more it sounds like people are actually reacting against pre-packaged, emotionally-manipulative, forced-to-a-predetermined-conclusion, passionless programs masquerading as worship.

And let's face it -- there are worship leaders and church leaders who appear skilled and deliberate with manipulation and pre-packaged "experiences" that are ultimately hollow and unsatisfying. And I'd be among the first to lead the charge out the door if that were the case.

But equating passion-less worship with being too "feminine" only creates confusion and unnecessary offence. It's not about some fictional "genderization" of worship and church, it's about passion, or the lack of it. Connection with the Divine, or the lack of it.

If intimacy with the Father is seen as too "feminine", or somehow substandard for the he-men of the 21st century, that says more about the men than it does about the worship or the church (and it's not a positive statement).

Two comments from the original Near/Far post that help to sum this up are from Molly
"I think it's not so much "feminization," because then we're basically saying that feminine is wimpy and weak... I think it's just that we've turned Christianity into white bread and twinkies. The gritty is taken out, the raw passion, the hungry searching."
and also this thought from Dave Taylor:
"If intimacy = feminized, which as one commenter said, seems to be used as a synonym for "weak," then we would have to discard many of the psalms and selected passages where the prophets bare their hearts to God in complaint or distress."

Just a quick perusal of the Psalms reveals a very intimate relationship between David and Yahweh; David was a soldier, a king, and a worship leader, whose masculinity was not in the least threatened by telling Yahweh of his love for Him (ie. Psalm 18:1-3, Psalm 23:6, Psalm 36:5-6, Psalm 103:8-12).

And the Shema of Deuteronomy 6:4-5, considered by the ancient Jews to be the centrepoint of Judaism, boldly proclaims:

"Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength."

When Jesus is questioned as to the heart of the Old Testament covenant, His reply, as recorded in Mark 12:28-31, tells us that the Shema is no less important now than it was then:
One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?"

"The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this: 'Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these."
Jesus not only reinforced the acceptability -- nay, the assumption -- that intimacy with the Father is important, He goes beyond the Shema to add humanity to the equation as well (another topic with huge implications).

Suffice it to say for now: worship that communicates and expresses a love for Jesus is not wimpy, feminized, or "an 80's thing". If the proliferation of sappy Jesus-is-my-boyfriend lyrics fail to adequately capture this biblical reality, the problem is with the songwriters and worship leaders who use these songs; maybe it's time we put songwriters' feet to the fire (so to speak) to come up with better ways of communicating.

I've got some thoughts on how being a "fatherless generation" has changed in meaning and expression recently, and how that might impact this topic; more on that later.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Near/Far

Recently, I've been running across comments and blog posts complaining about the "feminisation of the church", and not just from the Wild At Heart types.


And I've also come across other sources decrying what they consider the vomitous drivel of worship songs which they categorize as "Jesus is my boyfriend" types of songs. And I have to wonder: why all the sudden Christian male fear of intimacy with God?

After all, we're supposed to be enlightened 21st century dudes, aren't we? Not stuck in some wierd 1950's Leave It To Beaver kind of gender role assumptions? So what's the deal with saying that the church has been "feminized"?

What's the preferred, more balanced, man-friendly alternative -- worship services modelled after a wrestling match or perhaps a tractor pull, with the platform adorned with flannel-draped power tools, and where the pastor looks like Tim "The Tool Man" Taylor, or perhaps that icon of Canadian manliness, (insert genuflection here) Red Green?

Okay, I'm being just a wee bit sarcastic, but it DID strike me as odd this sudden sense of angst over the church being "feminized" (the decorating committee chose pastel colours again?). DANG, gotta get me some kind of sarcasm filter here...

I think the real issue behind this feminisation of the church and reaction to "Jesus is my boyfriend" songs -- which seems to include ANY song that speaks of loving Jesus (contrast with the Shema in Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and Mark 12:28-30) -- is the false dichotomy and pendulum swing between God's transcendance and imminence.

When songs like Arms Of Love by Craig Musseau, or Father I Want You To Hold Me by Brian Doerksen (to name just two of many) were written in the late 80's and early 90's, they were addressing a whole element missing from much of our worship: that God was approachable, intimate, a Comforter and a loving Father. The pendulum up till this point had been more focussed on God's transcendence: His holiness, His complete Other-ness, His attributes, and the need for reverential respect (fear) of the Lord. In many church circles, these songs of intimacy were perceived as an attack on God's sovereignty, or at the very least, the watering down of an understanding that God is HOLY.

And in some instances, there probably has been an over-correction, where God is now viewed as the Big Buddy in the Sky, or a feel-good hey-holiness-is-no-big-deal smilin' bobblehead, or even with the cavalier attitude of "Jesus is my homeboy". And perhaps we could start a contest in the comments to this post: "Syrupy Worship Songs That Send Me Into A Diabetic Coma". But this just represents the fringe element on the far side of the pendulum swing, which only serves to perpetuate the false dichotomy.

But perhaps the pendulum is swinging hard in the other direction; just as the anti-everything crowd gets their knickers in a knot about the irreverence towards God, so the emerging conversation has an element that seems to want to put God back in His unapproachable, unknowable, unlovable transcendent place.
Respect? Sure. Wonder? Okay. Mystery? Cool. Intimacy? Not at my tractor pull, buddy!
We need to learn to be comfortable in tension; radical middle people who can hold in one hand the idea that God is holy, righteous, soveriegn, just, and to be held in a deep reverential respect (fear of the Lord), and hold in the other hand the reality that, as Jesus told Philip, "if you have seen Me, you have seen the Father", and then look through, say, the Gospel According to St. John, and see just how Jesus modelled the heart of a Father who loves, cares for, blesses, and comforts His children. There is no biblical reason we should have to separate God's imminence and His transcendence; it's a false dichotomoy.
"For this is what the high and lofty One says -- He who lives forever, whose name is holy: 'I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.'" (Isaiah 57:15)
This post is getting long, so I'll stop here for now, but I think I'll be unpacking this one a bit more in the next couple of days.

Friday, October 13, 2006

A Technorati Scorned (a drama in one act)

In one of the most creative geek-speak-meets-Humphrey-Bogart blog entries ever, Tall Skinny Kiwi Andrew Jones details the heartbreak of A Technorati Scorned.

Creativity -- ya gotta love it! Blog it again, Sam.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Are you in?

Long before George Clooney uttered these classic words in Oceans Eleven (apologies to those who prefer Sinatra's version from 1960), the concept of "are you in" was explored in a much more visceral, gut-wrenching way by some of the big names of the Old Testament. Daniel and Nehemiah are examples to us today in their willingness to be "in" with a bunch of people who kept screwing up their nation. You can see it in their prayers.

Prayer of Nehemiah:
Then I said: "O LORD, God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and obey his commands, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father's house, have committed against you. We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses." (Nehemiah 1:5-7, emphasis added)
Prayer of Daniel
I prayed to the LORD my God and confessed: "O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with all who love him and obey his commands, we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes and our fathers, and to all the people of the land." (Daniel 9:4-6, emphasis added)
These two guys have a number of things in common, which makes their prayers all the more intriguing:
  1. Both were in captivity in foreign countries
  2. They were both men of prayer
  3. Neither one of them was directly at fault for the present state of affairs
    • Daniel was one of the "guys in the white hats", whose devotion to God was unquestionable (remember the vegetable diet and the lions' den?)
    • Nehemiah wasn't even born when the exile happened; he was born into slavery
  4. And most significantly, although they weren't the cause of the problem, they assumed a posture of identification with the rest of their people and with the plight of their people.
It strikes me, after reading these two prayers, that both Nehemiah and Daniel have hit upon something of great spiritual importance that we need to consider in our journey to recapture what it means to be the Church, in partnership as a missio ecclesia with God the Spirit in His missio dei of the advancing Kingdom of God. Simply put, I don't think we have the authority to proclaim that the "institutional" church isn't "us". The more I look at the whole topic of detoxing from church, the more I'm getting uneasy with the idea that we can just write off a large segment of the church. What if identifying with the church at large -- mega, seeker, purpose, charismatic, fundamentalist -- is part of God's missio ecclesia?

Is there a spiritual component to choosing to identify with the church at large, which we will miss out on if we don't (or refuse to) make that choice?

What if the freedom to choose to identify with the church (including our own CLB) is an indication of a returning spiritual health for those going through the season of detox?

Thoughts?

Sunday, October 8, 2006

First Day In Church

I've mentioned here before that St. Larry of Norman is my radical-middle patron saint. My very first Larry Norman album was Street Level, which opens, not with a song, but a long poem being recited by Larry (with a Cockney accent) during a concert in Hollywood.

Someone in California emailed me yesterday, asking about the words to that poem, entitled "First Day In Church". I don't have the words written down anywhere, nor could we find them online. However, I sat down and did a stream-of-consciousness writing from memory, and I think I've got it (mostly) right. At any rate, it's a window into my earliest influences as a new Christian.


First Day In Church

(Best read with a Cockney accent, or at least your best attempt at one)

The first time that I went to church was on a Sunday morning
And from what I'd heard, I figured I'd spend me whole time yawning
At 18 years of age or so, I thought I knew it all
Me hair was long, me jeans were tight
I loved a knife and buckle fight
Provided mates stood left and right
And those we fought were small

But me mates and me, we'd never been, so off to church we filed
We marched inside, about three abreast
Straight down the middle aisle
Some of us were smokin' cigs; Ron was sucking candies
We sat in what they call a "pew"
Then looked around to see just who'd come inside
Let me tell you, everyone dressed like dandies

And the row behind was full of dames
You shoulda seen their looks!
And one old dear, she gives me a smile
And offers me some books
Tah! We open 'em, pass 'em around
You shoulda seen the words, all set out like poetry is
And the words put us in a tizz
And Sam says through his lemon fizz
"These books is fer the birds"

"Shhhh! Tsk tsk tsk tsk!"
One old lady says
And the whole place buzzed
And Sam turns around and says
"Oh do hush up, you make more noise than us"
We looked around the building then
It really was revealing
Sam says, "Hey mates, I get the score
"There ain't no carpets on the floor
"Look at the rafters; they're so poor they can't afford a ceiling
"Can't afford electric either; using candles everywhere
"Colored windows like me granny's, at the bottom of the stair..."
"Shut your face," I says to Sam, "I'm be listening"
So was Ron

And from the left, without a noise
Came a line of little boys
And Sam says, in a puzzled voice, "Coo, they've all got nighties on"
Then came men, in robes and banners
"Look at that one, must be queer
"And they dare condemn us for the way we choose our gear?"
And then there's the minister, who's job's to preach
The Minister Whats-his-name
Those real long prayers, and what he preaches
Sounds just about the same

I came to church to listen -- close
But I can't understand their chatter
It's like "mumble, mumble, shifting sinking sands"
And words like judgment or reprimand
Well, me and me mates can't understand talk quite like that
I'm used to talking with me mates
With words that has a meaning

If people like that sort of stuff...
Well, let them, that's okay
But let me tell you what I feel
I feel we need someone who'll deal in words and thoughts
And things that's real -- I'd listen to what he'd say
Me mum once said,
"Son, Jesus came to help young men like you"
But Jesus came so long ago, Mum, and I don't think it's true

But is there anyone here, right now, who can explain to me
Is Christ a myth? A madman's whim?
Some say Christ can cure our sin
Is there a way to contact Him?
Or will I die not knowing how?

Listen, I only came to church to see if they could offer hope
But everything that happened there was way outside my scope
Like afterwards, outside, was a beggar on the grass
He held out his hand, and people'd smile, then they'd pass
I'm sure he reached for something real
For something more than cash

He begged them for a little cheer
And they all pretended not to hear
I get the message,
Loud and clear:

Church is middle-class.

Thursday, October 5, 2006

Under the Influence

Of Hans-Petter Anderssen, that is!

Hans wrote a comment to the previous post that included the following:
"Don the kilt and let the bagpipes wail! At least give the critics what your ancestor William Wallace and his band did in the Braveheart backside battle scene. Hey that would make a good picture for your blog profile - Robbymac's other side."
It's not the first time Hans has had an influence/impact on this blog -- it was Hans who originally gave me the nickname "robbymac", back when we were both on pastoral staff at Eastgate Vineyard Christian Fellowship in Victoria BC.

So, in honour of Hans' ongoing creative influence in my life, for a limited time only, I have placed a more polite interpretation of Hans' suggestion here.

The tartan in the background, of course, is the Clan McAlpine's. Cuimhnich bas Ailpein!